On diplomatic front: neutral, yet stoutly anticommunist

Off to the port side of Soviet ships heading to the Atlantic Ocean from Murmansk lies the green coastline of the last landfall between northern Europe and the United States.

Ireland. Neutral in both world wars. Divided. Dublin at odds with Britan. Conspicuously not a member of NATO. . . .

Suddenly, Ireland is talking about its neutrality again -- but there's little comfort for the Soviets. Ireland is neutral, yes. But it is also Western, and Christian.

Irish neutrality is more traditional, a way of asserting both individuality, and opposition to Britain, which controls the six northern counties centered on Belfast.

At least once since World War II, the Irish government tried to use its neutrality as a diplomatic lever to secure US support against Britain. The effort failed.

At the same time, Ireland has been a member of the European Community since 1973. If Europe ever agreed on a common defense policy, Ireland woudl be a part of it. Ireland's Roman Catholic Church regards communism as anathema.

It all adds up to resolute anticommunism, a stability that appeals to foreign investors.

Yet Ireland's future world stance is an issue once again these days. It has arisen because Dublin and London agreed last December to set up a series of joint studies aimed at easing the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In the Dail (parliament) here March 12, Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey faces opposition charges that he was using neutrality as a bargaining lever with the United Kingdom -- that is, he was hinting he would move closer to Britain to ease British fears it and when British troops ever left the north.

Mr. Haughey's reply set off new headlines. When a satisfactory agreement was reached with Britain, he said, Irish defense arrangements would be "reviewed for the island as a whole. It would be unrealistic and improvident not to do so."

At issue right now is a plan between London and Dublin under which, it is beleived, an Anglo-Irish council would be set up. Dublin and Westminster would appoint members of Parliament to it. It would monitor Anglo-Irish relations, while Britain would retain control of the north (and is pledged to change nothing there unless a majority of people -- that is, Protestants -- agree first.)

Westminster MPs from the north (soon to be increased to 18) might eventually sit on the council. The hope is gradually to ease tensions generated in part by the presence of 11,000 British troops keeping daily order.

If those troops ever withdrew and confined themselves to NATO communications and other duties (Britain is committed to keep three NATO regiments in the north), local police and soldiery could take over.

If a majority in the north ever did vote to rejoin the south, British troops might even pull out altogether.

That's when Britain would want new defense arrangements in Ireland. A united Ireland would have to strengthen its armed forces (today it has only 15,000 men and seven lightly armed craft to protect fishing boats).

Irish neutrality would come under pressure. The Soviets recently praised Ireland for staying out of NATO and attacked Britain for allegedly trying to push Ireland into a NATO arrangement as the price for a Northern Ireland settlement.

Prime Minister Haughey has made it clear that Ireland will never allow a third country (i. e., the Soviet Union) to use Irish territory to launch an attack against the U.K.

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